PERRIS, California — Nik Faas dominated the AMS/Oil USAC-CRA sprint car event Saturday aboard Mark Alexander's No. 4 Chevy and recorded his second consecutive victory in the series at the half-mile Perris Auto Speedway. A large crowd in the main grandstand watched the racing attraction during the annual Southern California Fair (October 8-16) with carnival rides, games of chance, product vendor booths, and food aromas surrounding the event. The split level racing program ran warmup and hot laps, qualifying and four ten-lap heat races from 1:00 to almost 3:00 pm on a sunny afternoon with temps in the high 70s. A three hour intermission followed and allowed racing spectators to visit fair attractions as the track crew re-prepared the clay surface for the B and A mains that evening.
Faas, a 22-year old California State Fullerton University student from Huntington Beach, set fastest qualifying time at 1:20 pm as the first of 30 qualifiers. He turned a 16.370 on the well-prepared track. He placed fourth in the first heat race to secure his eighth starting spot in the evening's feature. Series point leader Mike Spencer, the 14th driver to qualify, turned a 16.532 for second fastest qualifying time. The six-time 2011 feature winner (four at The PAS) in16 series races became involved in a heat two three-car crash in the second turn. A reported bent steering arm and bent header sidelined his No. 50 Ron Chaffin Maxim. Spencer started the 7:15 pm B main from pole position and led all 12 laps to earn ninth starting spot for the 30-lap A main.
The four 10-lap heat races (from 2:18 to 2:52 pm) in order went to sixth starter Cory Kruseman, the lap 9-10 leader aboard the No. 7 Mark Priestley ride for the first time; fifth starter David Cardey, who led the final eight laps of heat two; fourth starter Matt Mitchell, the lap 5-10 leader in heat three, and fourth starter Austin Williams, who led every lap in the final heat. The fourth heat had the entire Williams clan in it. Father Rip, 56, finished a close second and Austin's older brother Cody placed fourth to also qualify for the A-main in the third John Jory sprinter. The winning times from heat one through four were: 2:59.93, no time (two caution flags), 3:08.26 and 3:13.80.
The three hour intermission followed and allowed racing spectators to visit State of California Lake Perris Fairgrounds fair attractions, including carnival rides, games of chance, livestock exhibits, arts and crafts, special events such as turkey races, and on-stage concerts by the well-known country music five-man band Doo-Wah Riders. The atmosphere reminded some racing fans of the 1950-60-70 era California Mid-Winter Fair CRA races near El Centro. The half-mile clay track was watered and prepared anew for post 6:15 pm wheel-packing, hot laps and the 7:15 B main, followed by the feature. Pole starter Spencer led the B main by a straightaway after five laps. He then took extra care lapping three slower cars on the final lap and still finished half a straight ahead of runner-up Andrew Reinbold, one of three Arizona drivers present with their Arizona-based cars.
FLIPPERS: Kenny Perkins, the 24th qualifier, turned a 17.910 on his first lap and on lap 2 rode up the turn 3-4 crash-wall and rolled three and a half times. His No. 0K landed on its side in the fourth turn. Perkins was not injured, but his car was damaged too severely to compete. Ray Potter (No. 6) flipped in the fourth turn on lap 3 of the B-main without injury, but his car was sidelined. Ten of 13 B-main starters finished.
The 30-lap feature started at 7:55 and concluded at 8:12 pm in front of a crowded main grandstand and partially filled bleachers in the first and fourth turns. Fair-goers received free admission to the sprint car races with their $8.00 adult admission to the fair. Children 7 and under were admitted free. The sounds of racing engines lured many first-time sprint car racing attendees into the grandstand. Repeated PA announcements reminded everyone about the upcoming 16th annual Oval Nationals on November 3, 4 and 5 with USAC National and CRA regional sprint car drivers competing for the largest PAS purse of the year. Two adults next to me witnessed PAS sprint car racing for the first time, enjoyed the speed and close competition, and said they will return from their Corona home for all three nights of the Oval Nationals.
A MAIN: The feature lineup showed Rickie Gaunt and Rip Williams in row 1, Greg Bragg and David Cardey in row 2, Cory Kruseman and Cody Williams in row 3, with Matt Mitchell and Faas in row 4 as the eight quickest qualifiers to transfer from the four heat races. The A lineup portended an exciting race and drivers did not disappoint. They reeled off 13 rapid green flag laps with frequent passing on the racy clay. Then the first of two yellow flags flew for the stalled car of P. 6 Cardey. Rapid Faas came from ninth to sixth on the first lap. He was fifth on lap 4, fourth on lap 11, and second on lap 12 when he passed both Bragg and R. Williams simultaneously. Gaunt had led every lap before the caution by about ten yards over R. Williams to lap 12. Gaunt led lap 14 narrowly, but Faas shot into P. 1 on the outside from turn 4 to the starting line on lap 15. He quickly opened a 30-yard lead after lap 16 and kept his throttle foot planted all the way. Faas led at mid-race over Gaunt, R. Williams, Bragg, C. Williams, Mitchell, Spencer, Kruseman, Arizonan R. J. Johnson and A. Williams with 18 cars on the lead lap. The leader opened a straightaway lead over Gaunt by lap 24 as he lapped up to P. 14. Faas lapped P. 13-12 drivers on the final lap and won by a full straightaway. One report had Faas turning the second fastest lap ever run at The PAS. Gaunt, Spencer (who was sixth on lap 24), R. Williams, Bragg, Kruseman, Mitchell, A. Williams, Johnson, C. Williams and John Aden finished all 30 circuits in P 2-11 order. Finishers Brody Roa, Verne Sweeney, Josh Pelkey, David Bezio, Reinbold, Dakota Kershaw, Ronnie Gardner, Royal Adderson, Corey Ballard and Cal Smith had been lapped at least once by Faas.
POST-RACE: The top three finishers stopped at the finish line for post-race interviews. Winner Faas said, “I set fast time, but I made a mistake in my heat race.” He thanked his sponsors and car owner Alexander. “My goal at the start of the year in this new ride was to race hard. I wanted to win at least three main events and contend for the championship. Gaunt raced me clean. We're finally reaching our stride right before the Oval Nationals. I'm happy to be in the match race and race with the guys from back east.” He thanked “my dad and mom for putting up all that money in my early years in racing.” ... Runner-up Gaunt praised Faas' ability. He said, “Faas, Rip's kids, and Matt Mitchell are all talented and race clean.” ... P. 3 Spencer stated, “Third place wasn't what we wanted. But ninth to third, we'll take that. We're looking forward to the upcoming Oval Nationals.” The pit announcer told 2008-09-10 USAC-CRA champion Spencer he is not a veteran veteran and not a young up-comer, you're in the middle. He replied, “Yes, some of these young guys are doing a great job. You can race these sprint cars if you're 18 or 55.”
POINTS: Faas jumped from third to second in AMS/Oil USAC-CRA current point standings, moving past Mitchell. Faas cut eight points from Spencer's 39 point advantage entering Saturday's event and now trails Spencer by 31 points (930-899) with Mitchell third at 891 points. The 2011 schedule has six race dates remaining at the three-eights mile clay Canyon Speedway Park, Peoria, Arizona (Friday-Saturday October 28-29), at The PAS (November 3, 4, 5), and at the three-eights clay Giant Speedway in Hanford, SW of Fresno, (November 12). All six races will award both USAC-CRA and USAC National points, so full fields and outstanding racing are expected.
OVAL NATIONALS PREVIEW: The Southern California Fair race served as a preview for the eagerly anticipated 16th annual Oval Nationals that will pay the feature winning team $12,500. Faas and Spencer and their teams appear to be hitting on all cylinders at The PAS and are primed to defend local drivers honor against invading AMS/Oil USAC National Sprint circuit drivers. Expected USAC National drivers are past Oval Nationals winners Chris Windom, Damion Gardner, Bud Kaeding, Dave Darland, plus Levi Jones, Brian Clauson, Tracy Hines, Jon Stanbrough, Brady Bacon, Robert Ballou, Bobby East, Jerry Coons, Jr, Hunter Schuerenberg, and Darren Hagen. Four active CRA drivers who have won past Oval Nationals are Kruseman, Gaunt, R. Williams and Rodney Argo. The usual CRA teams and another ten competitors from northern and central California are expected to race as well.
Kyle “the Ninja Warrior” Larson, a 19-year old Elk Grove, California driver making major waves this season with 22 feature victories and counting, is entered in the No. 1L Buster & Ziggy car. Kyle reminds some of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, a versatile winner in everything he raced. Larson is contending for championships in both the USAC National Sprints and USAC Driver of the Year overall national series points championships. Larson is sure to please spectators with his racing talent. He was a video interviewee on Dave De Spain's Wind Tunnel show Sunday, October 2 and handled himself well on the SPEED Network national TV telecast. Sponsors seeking a verbal spokesman, quick learner and winner had to be impressed. The 5'6”, 120 pound driver was born on 7/31/92 in Sacramento to parents Mike and Janet Larson. His heritage is Norwegian, British and American Indian on his paternal side and Japanese-American on his maternal side.
All Larson has done so far in 2011 is win main events in all three USAC National Series—Silver Crown on Sept. 4 at the dirt mile Du Quoin, Ill., Sprints on Aug. 9 at the clay Oskaloosa, Iowa, half-mile, and Midgets on dirt—quarter-mile clay Bloomington, Ind. June 10, Belleville, Kan. Nationals in his first attempt at the fast, banked dirt half-mile on Aug. 6, and Oct. 7 at three-eights mile Tri-City Speedway Pontoon Beach, Illinois, and on the paved Lucas Oil Raceway, Clermont, Ind. 5/8-mile. He drove his No. 99 California BK Motor-sports sprint ride and topped a USAC-CRA main event Sept. 9 at the Chico quarter-mile He also won his first World of Outlaws feature (Sept. 10) when the national winged sprint series visited his home track in Chico, north of Sacramento. On Sept. 12 he started 14th and finished second to 20-time WoO sprint champion Steve Kinser on the Antioch quarter-mile near San Francisco. He also won ASCS and POWRi winged 360 sprint mains.
At the end of September Kyle put the icing on his sensational season by winning all three of the USAC features (S/C, sprints and midgets) in the Four Crown Nationals at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway, Rossburg, Ohio. Jack Hewitt won all four Eldora Four Crown mains a decade ago, but Kyle did not have a modified ride for Eldora although he looked for one. Amazingly, it was Kyle's first-ever visit to Eldora and he took to the challenging track like a veteran of the high-banked dirt track. Track owner/NASCAR star Stewart was present and awarded him an extra $10,000 bonus and praised his ability as a talent that comes along every 20 years. The impressive teenager has won in USAC sprint cars for Hoffman Racing (No. 69), the “winningest sprint car team” in USAC history. Larson drives Toyota-powered No. 67 midgets and the No. 71 Silver Crown car for owner/mechanic Keith Kunz and partner Pete Willoughby, of Columbus, Indiana, where Kyle resides during the summer racing season. Kunz compared Larson's driving ability to that of Tony Stewart. Kyle's racing goals include the Indy 500 or NASCAR top tier series, wherever an opportunity arises. He does not bring sponsorship dollars—yet.
P.S.-- Other recent USAC open-wheel drivers who have matriculated to NASCAR stock car ranks include:
> Cole Whitt, 20, leading 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie of the year points most of the season driving the No. 60 Red Bull Chevy truck. He ranks 7th in overall points after 20 races.
> Alex Bowman, 18, finished sixth overall in NASCAR K & N East Series final points and won series rookie of the year honors over the sons of NASCAR drivers Randy La Joie (P.8) and Bill Elliott (P.9). Alex finished second at Columbus, Ohio in July, recorded four top fives, and seven top tens in 12 races driving the No. 16 Toyota Camry. He raced on speedways in North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and at Dover, Delaware. He is also two for two in ARCA stock car victories driving the No. 55 for Bill Venturini on August 26 at the Madison, Wisconsin half-mile and again last weekend at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. It was his first race on a track larger than a mile and he came from ninth place with outside passes to win going away in the closing laps after pitting for tires. Alex, a past USAC Ford Focus Midget champion in his family-owned No. 55 midget, was a “final call” video interviewee on De Spain's Wind Tunnel show on SPEED Sunday, October 9. He acquitted himself professionally.
> Chad Boat, 19, raced in the NASCAR K & N West Series last season. This season Chad has raced as a rookie in the NASCAR K & N East circuit with the No. 98 Curb Records Chevy team. He finished 16th in overall points (65 drivers) and ninth among rookies.
> Josh Wise, 28, a multi-time USAC champion and four-year NASCAR driver, still dabbles in USAC racing when time permits. He has qualified in all three of the NASCAR national series this season and currently ranks 15th of 137 drivers in NASCAR Nationwide driver points despite not having a ride for two of the 30 races. Josh finished in the NNS top ten three times this year with a best finish of fourth in the JR Motor-sports No. 7 when Indy Car driver Danica Patrick was unavailable to drive it. He also has raced the NNS No. 39 and 40 cars. He currently has the No. 37 NASCAR Sprint Cup ride.
These drivers and Larson could be considered a cross between current NASCAR Cup stars Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman—all past USAC open-wheel racing headliners. With emerging talent that USAC open-wheel racing has to offer, the upcoming Canyon (Peoria, Ariz.), PAS Oval Nationals, Hanford sprint finale, and annual Turkey Night Midget GP at Irwindale on Thursday, November 24 are must see races for racing fans who want to see current and future national racing stars.